How They Got Here: 2009 Debut Author Heather Duffy Stone

This post is part of a year-long series of blog interviews I’ll be hosting with my fellow 2009 Debut Authors, called "How They Got Here."  

It should be an especially helpful series for teens who write, teachers, and anyone who wants to write for kids.  2009 debut authors will be dropping by to talk about how their writing in school shaped the authors they are today, what teachers can do to make a difference, how they revise, and how they found their agents and editors.  (You’ll even be able to read some successful query letters!)  If you know a teacher or two who might be interested, please share the link!

Today… Heather Duffy Stone

Fraternal twins Nadio and Noelle share a close connection—and as Noelle’s best friend since they were five, Keeley Shipley fit perfectly into their world. But everything changes after Keeley spends the summer before junior year at Oxford. When Keeley returns, Nadio falls in love with her. Noelle, ripped apart by resentment, sees her as an ungrateful rich girl. But Keeley has a painful story that she can’t tell yet. As Nadio and Keeley hide their romance, Noelle dives into something of her own—a destructive affair with an older boy.

Welcome, Heather! Tell us about the first thing you ever wrote that made you think maybe you were a writer.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t think I was a writer!

What books did you love when you were a kid?

I absolutely loved anything by Katherine Patterson. Bridge to Terabithia is still one of my favorites. Tuck Everlasting. A Summer to Die. I’ve always favored tragedy over comedy. I think, one day, I may force myself to write a happy ending! And the book that made me want to write YA was Over the Moon by Elissa Haden Guest. It’s a perfect story.

Is there a particular teacher or librarian who was a mentor for you in your reading and writing life?

Jackie Nienow was my second grade teacher. She told me I should be a writer and I’m always thankful for that. Gareth Parizo was an 8th grade teacher who was completely supportive of my melodramatic ramblings. And then in high school I had so many supportive teachers. I wrote my first novel with Paul Lamar, an incredible guide and mentor.

Moving on to the here and now, most writers admit that making time to write can sometimes be a challenge.  When and where do you write?   Do you have any special rituals?  

I write whenever I can. I spend about ten hours a day at my day job, including the commute. In the evenings, if I can summon the energy, I write a little. I always reserve Sundays for writing and school vacations are sort of forced blocks of creativity. I try to write in my apartment but it is rarely successful. I often write at some nearby coffee shops, and I have a writing partner, because that companionship, someone else writing just beside me, is so motivating. I drink black coffee or tea and I listen to sad lyrical music, lately Eliott Smith and Rufus Wainwright—this is what’s working for now anyway!

Best advice for young writers?

Please please do everything in your power not to compare yourself to others. Your voice is unique and your story is your own and with each word you write you are changing and growing as a writer. So write for yourself first, and keep writing through all that is discouraging and distracting and frustrating. Those might be your best times.

What’s special about your debut novel?

That is a tough question. I mean, for me the experience of writing it was so special. But I think the reason this book is the book I sold, the reason I hope people respond to it, is the two voices. I wanted to tell a story about the way we fall in love for the very first time—but there isn’t any one way. And through the twins’ voices and experiences, I tried to represent this experience in a way that was true and that you as a reader could relate to.

What were the best and worst parts of writing it?

It was extremely hard, at first, switching back and forth between the two voices. But once I got going, I really loved writing it. I was so deeply involved with the characters—its actually been really hard to transition to a new project!

How did you find your agent and/or editor?

I was recommended to my editor, Andrew Karre, by a friend, the wonderful prolific chameleon, Micol Ostow. I sent him a query and the whole thing happened pretty fast. I knew I wanted to work with him. When Flux made an offer, I realized I needed an agent. Jenoyne Adams came to me through a series of strange connections and she was the perfect fit.

Would you like to share part or all of your successful query letter with blog readers?

Hmmm. I’ll share the first paragraph!

Dear ;

First (just so you get past line one of this letter) my friend Micol Ostow, , suggested I write to you. It’s true.

There is something about tattoos, and Noelle Carter is trying to figure out what that something is. There is something about the way the crawl up this boy’s arms and tell the story of his life that she wants to figure out. Meanwhile, her twin brother, Nadio, is finding that there is something about Keeley Shipley, lifelong neighbor and best friend to Noelle, that he wants to figure out. As for Keeley Shipley, there is
something about her summer that she does not want to talk about. But maybe, if Nadio is as safe as he seems, he can make the summer take up less space in her brain.

Thanks for sharing your journey, Heather!

You can read more about Heather at her website, and of course, you can ask for THIS IS WHAT I WANT TO TELL YOU at your local independent bookseller.  You can also order it through one of my favorite indies, Flying Pig Bookstore (they ship!), or find an indie near you by checking outIndieBound!